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Stathum v. Garvey

August 14, 2008

SHEILA STATHUM, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN GARVEY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. SC-1806-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued August 5, 2008

Before Judges Sapp-Peterson and Baxter.

Defendant John Garvey appeals from a June 7, 2007 order denying his motion to vacate a May 17, 2007 judgment in plaintiff's favor in the amount of $1,194. We affirm.

I.

On March 9, 2007, the vehicle operated by defendant rear-ended the 1995 Ford Thunderbird being operated by plaintiff Sheila Stathum. Shortly after the accident, defendant's insurance carrier, Liberty Mutual, obtained a written estimate of $2,991 from Epic Collision for the cost of repairs to plaintiff's vehicle. Liberty Mutual then determined that the cost of the repairs exceeded the book value of plaintiff's vehicle, which was $1,797. Consequently, Liberty Mutual declared the car a total loss and forwarded a check to plaintiff in the amount of the $1,797. Plaintiff cashed the check and applied the proceeds to the purchase of a 2003 Malibu.*fn1

Plaintiff's purchase of the Malibu resulted in a $300 per month car payment.

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Smalls Claims Division of the Special Civil Part in which she sought compensation for her increased car insurance premiums, car payment and emotional distress. During the May 17, 2007 non-jury Small Claims trial, the parties stipulated that liability was not in dispute and the sole issue was damages. During the trial, plaintiff produced a repair estimate from Ken's Auto Body in the amount of $5,000. The $2,991 repair estimate obtained by defendant's insurance carrier from Epic Collision was also introduced in evidence. Plaintiff testified that before the accident, she had no car payment and was unable to afford the $300 monthly obligation she was forced to incur when she purchased the Malibu.

Judge Sullivan rejected defendant's argument that his liability was limited to the value of plaintiff's vehicle prior to the accident. The judge reasoned that defendant's proposed method of calculating damages was not applicable in a two-party action such as this and would only have been applicable in a first-party action against plaintiff's own insurance carrier. In a written opinion, the judge concluded that defendant was not entitled to limit plaintiff's damages to the fair market value of the vehicle. The judge reasoned:

The market value approach clearly would not have compensated plaintiff for her loss. At the same time, giving her the full cost of the new vehicle may have put her in a better position than she was in before the accident. . . . The repair costs may not have been a perfect figure but it was better than either market value, which would have left plaintiff in a far worse position than she was in before the accident, and replacement costs which would have left her in a better position.

The judge rejected plaintiff's claims for emotional distress and the increase in her insurance premiums. Because plaintiff has not cross-appealed, we do not address those issues.

The judge determined that plaintiff's damages consisted of the $2,991 that it would have cost to repair her vehicle, minus the $1,797 defendant had already paid. Accordingly, the judge entered ...


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